the writing and photography of Neil Kramer



I don’t believe in Jesus being resurrected. I don’t believe Muhammed was a prophet. Why should I believe in the validity of the stories that are told in synagogue?

I don’t.   Or I at least take most of what I hear with a grain of salt.  Or I explain away things as allegory.  I don’t consider myself religious (although Sophia says I am — why?).  I do, however, appreciate the fact that religion deals with the big issues of life, and by that I don’t mean which young actress is or isn’t anorexic or just out of rehab.  Religious or not, as a storyteller, I do like stories, especially fanciful ones, and religion is filled with tons of them.  I don’t see “fiction” as less real than “reality.”  It just is another version of reality.  As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I treat the posts where I talk to my Penis as seriously as I do any other.   It is both untrue and very true.  In religion, symbolism and rituals can speak a truth far more important than reality.   I think Judaism has some really great symbolism and ritual.   I would be bored being an atheist.  That “story” would flop at the box-office.

I also think it is important for the non-traditional and not-very-religious to take an active role in religion. Can you think of anything worse than the world’s religions being run by people who are seriously ultra-RELIGIOUS — those who are totally convinced of their own beliefs?  I’m pretty sure we all can come come up with plenty of examples of how religion — and religious intolerance —  has screwed up mankind throughout history.  If I meet someone who is positive that their religion is “the one and only true one” or if this person has absolutely NO DOUBTS about their faith, I run the other way. 

That said, I love Rosh Hashanah.  It is all about renewal and hope for a better new year, for “being inscribed favorably in the Book of Life”.  It is also about making amends, thinking over your wrongs, and about how everyone’s sins are inter-related; about taking upon yourself the “sins” of everyone in the community.

Yesterday, we went to South Coast Botanical Gardens rather than the ocean,  to observe the ancient tradition of Tashlich -“tossing away our sins”, but this being Los Angeles, the lake at the gardens was closed for some dull-looking Showtime TV show that was being shot at the location.


I was ready to leave but Sophia, being Sophia, schmoozed with the bored sound man and he showed us how we can get around to the other side of the lake for Tashlich.

Rabbinic tradition states that it was preferable to go to a body of water containing fish, since “man cannot escape God’s judgement any more than fish can escape being caught in a net; we are just as likely to be ensnared and trapped at any moment as is a fish”. Another rabbinic interpretation that also prefers a body of water containing fish to perform Tashlich states that “the fish’s dependence on water symbolizes the Jews’ dependence on God, as a fish’s eyes never close, God’s watchful eyes never cease”. However, since Tashlikh or Tashlich or Tashlik is merely a symbolic ceremony, any body of water will suffice, even if it is water that runs from a hose or from a water faucet.


On Rosh Hashanah, Jews also recognize that God is above Time, and the idea of “forgetting” does not apply to Him, nor is He limited in “understanding” the inner thoughts of His creatures. Nevertheless, we ask that He “remember” only the “good” in our behalf when He Judges us.





For the Jewish People in particular, we ask that He “remember” the early loyalty of our People, who followed Him as a bride, as He said “I remember your youthful devotion, the love of your bridal days, how you followed Me through the desert, in a barren land” (Yirmiyahu 2:2)


Judaism’s central prayer: Sh’ma Israel, Adonai Elohainu, Adonai Ehad. “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.”


A blogger asked me why Jews wear yarmulkes, or kippahs in temple.

The uniqueness of a Jewish head covering is hinted at in the blessing we say every morning, thanking God for “crowning Israel with splendor” (Talmud – Brachot 60b)

Historically, in Eastern cultures, it is a sign of respect to cover the head (the custom in Western cultures is the opposite: it is a sign of respect to remove one’s hat). Thus, by covering the head during prayer, one showed respect for God. In addition, in ancient Rome, servants were required to cover their heads while free men did not; thus, Jews covered their heads to show that they were servants of God.

The Talmud says that the purpose of wearing a kippah is to remind us of God, who is the Higher Authority is “above us” (Kiddushin 31a). External actions create internal awareness; wearing a symbolic, tangible “something above us” reinforces that idea that God is always watching. The kippah is a means to draw out one’s inner sense of respect for God.

(sometimes, when you’re outside, Sophia’s hat will do, even if it looks totally dorky.  I must have to explain away wearing this hat as a “sin” next year, at least a fugly one.)


Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, but even if you’re not Jewish, September always feels like a new year, with school starting and fall approaching.    Hopefully it will be a “sweet” year for everyone.


Idea for Rosh Hashanah 2008 — To make going to temple more interactive, I suggest a new prayer book in which certain prayers have missing lyrics, and congregants have to guess the missing words to the prayers to win prizes such as bagels and lox at Canter’s Deli.



  1. Ellen Bloom

    Your botanical garden looks much lovlier than Ballona Creek! We tossed our sins into the 2 inches of water off the La Cienega overpass of the Creek! Oy!
    Yummm…lemon meringue pie will surely insure you a sweet coming year. Happy New Year!

  2. Jill - GlossyVeneer

    Thank you for posting this. It’s been interesting to learn a little more about Rosh Hashanah this year, as I’ve seen so much twittering going on about it.

    And the gardens are beautiful!

  3. Not Fainthearted

    Thanks for this beautiful post and for sharing a little about Rosh Hashanah traditions…even though you have some doubts overall 😉

    (BTW, I think you’re right. The spiritual path is not one of certitude but of questioning. Doubting. Wondering.)

    I think I’ll call you Reb Neilochka. Is that ok?

  4. Jody

    Love the boob shot!

  5. littlepurplecow

    Happy new year, Neil. Blessings to you and Sophia.

    And the hat is actually kinda cute. Add a felt, fringed vest and a plastic sheriff badge and you’ve got yourself a Halloween costume.

  6. MammaLoves

    Thanks for including me in the holiday. I think I probably would have been a much better Jew than I am Agnostic Christian. My honorary tribeswoman status will have to suffice, I guess.

  7. Bre

    The photography is lovely, but the sentiment even more so!

  8. sassy

    You kill me Neil. That was a beautiful post, sincerely ! And you look like such a fugly cutie pie in Sophia’s hat.

  9. Geeky Tai-Tai

    I always find it interesting to learn the similarities of the world’s religions. Thank you for filling me in on Jewish traditions and symbolism. I love the photos too — beautiful!

  10. Caron

    I’ve always found the river to be a great source of strength and stability when I myself am floundering. This adds another layer of depth and appreciation to that. Thanks Neil.

  11. churlita

    I love you in that hat. It should be your new look for the new year.

  12. sandra

    Neil, I learned something today — yay!

  13. nelumbo

    Interesting, introspective post. I’ve been struggling with these issues, as I recently decided to have a traditional baptism my daughter and I find comfort I in the Christian rituals, and yet I don’t really believe in the core beliefs behind the ceremony.

    I like your sentiment here:

    “symbolism and rituals can speak a truth far more important than reality”

    I will have to leave here and ponder on that thought…

  14. teahouseblossom

    Great post, Neil. I’m glad it looks like you guys had a nice day. Happy New Year, and may you have a sweet one!

  15. miriam

    Neil, I learned something, which is always good. Beautiful post. Happy New Year to you and Sophia and all your readers.

    BTW, in synagogue we learned that Rosh Hashonah is the birthday of the world. Happy birthday, World.

  16. 180/360

    That was a lovely and interesting post. I love learning about other religions.

  17. one80three60

    For some reason my comments aren’t posting! Let’s see if using less numbers works.

    I thought this was really interesting and thoughtful. I love to hear about different religions.

  18. metalia

    I also love Rosh Hashanah; it’s my favorite holiday, for many of the reasons you listed. 🙂 Shanah Tovah!

  19. V-Grrrl

    As an Episcopalian, I have a fondness for both tradition and doubt. I love how my church welcomes me and my questions to the table. To me, real faith is moving forward anyway, even when you’re in a state of disbelief. Know-it-alls believe in THEMSELVES, not a Higher Power.

    Be ONE. Happy New Year. And I hope you skipped the lemon meringue pie–your life is already sweet and sour. 😛

    Love, V

  20. Richard Heft

    Simple test of whether or not you’re religious: If you’re walking along the beach and a bottle washes up next to you, do you rub it to see if there’s a genie inside? If so, bow to Mecca, you MUSLIM!

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